Pilots have used flight simulators to learn and refine their flying skills for decades. Tankers and Bradley fighting vehicle crewmen have also long had opportunities to hone their skills in simulators.
Now the Army is fielding a simulator that will help dismounted infantry improve their skills and tactics without the discomfort, danger or the monetary and environmental costs associated with live training in the field.
The Dismounted Soldier Training System, or DSTS, was demonstrated to members of the area media Oct. 25 following a couple days of demonstrations for students and faculty at the Command and General Staff College.
Dan Miller, military analyst for combat arms systems at the Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager Virtual at Fort Leavenworth, is project leader for the DSTS. Miller said TCM Virtual has been working with industry for about three years to adapt gaming and simulation technology for training dismounted Soldiers.
Soldiers using the DSTS each wear a body harness loaded with sensors that track body positions, a helmet-mounted 3-D 360-degree visual display with wireless radio and voice communications, and a computer backpack. The system also includes an M4-style weapon, which can be configured in the virtual environment to include various optics and accessories found in the real world, including grenade launcher and squad automatic weapon configurations. Buttons on the weapon's forward handgrip let the Soldier throw a grenade, drop a chemical light and perform other actions in the virtual environment.
Each DSTS suite includes nine of the Soldier modules — enough to outfit and train a typical dismounted infantry squad. The modules are wirelessly linked to several workstations and an exercise control station. DSTS currently features 92 training support packages, which feature different basic scenarios in a variety of terrain and environmental conditions, including night operations, Miller said. Each suite costs about $470,000, he said.
Staff Sgt. Donald Kimzey and Staff Sgt. Paul Kornberger, both from the Mission Command Training Program, demonstrated the DSTS for the media with a mission to cordon and search for a high value target. The scenario included entering and securing a walled compound and the two-story home within.
"It's a very realistic scene, typical of what you might find in Iraq," Kimzey said.
Kimzey, an infantryman with experience leading a squad in combat, said, "It's a good tool for squad leader level training."
Kimzey and Kornberger only had a brief orientation with the equipment before their first demonstration a few days before.
"I'm not much of a videogamer, but I caught on pretty quick," Kimzey said.
Kornberger agreed, adding, "I don't think any Soldier would not want to do this."
"It will be interesting to get a squad and do an actual mission," Kimzey said.
Each mission is recorded, so afterward, a squad leader can sit down with his Soldiers for an after-action review. The replay can be reviewed from an overhead "god-view" or zero in on what an individual squad member saw or did.
"(With the DSTS) you can take Soldiers through a training event and later go back and see what happened," said Maj. Eric Olson, an expert in virtual training systems.
Fielding began with the delivery of two DSTS suites to the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., in June, Miller said. Since then, more suites have been delivered to Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Wash. More are on the way.
Feedback has pointed out some shortcomings in the initial systems, Miller said, and they are being addressed.
For instance, while the suite has voice and radio communications, the body sensors are marginal when it comes to interpreting and sending hand and arms signals.
"It is really important that we get that fixed," Miller said.
Other enhancements are being worked on at Fort Benning's MCOE is a program called the Avatar Initiative. In the current DSTS, all Soldiers are the same size and look pretty much the same on the virtual battlefield. The Avatar Initiative, Miller explained, wants to put a Soldier's face on his or her avatar. The avatar will also be customized to take into account an individual Soldier's height, weight and body composition, level of physical fitness, and weapon proficiency.
"Soldiers who are slow and fat and can't shoot won't be heroes in this," he said.